President Joe Biden is set to hold America’s first-ever quadrilateral summit with leaders from Japan, India and Australia, as the four countries step up cooperation in a bid to counter the influence of China in the Indo-Pacific.
The White House said Biden could host the virtual meeting next week. The choice of a “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” meeting for its first summit highlights its plan to reinvigorate the Quad as part of its Chinese strategy.
The Quad appeared in 2007 after nations coordinated relief efforts in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia. But it then went dormant, in part due to Indian and Australian concerns about provoking China.
Former President Donald Trump resurrected the Quad. While Canberra had long reversed course, India has recently become more active amid rising tensions with China, including a deadly border clash in Ladakh last summer.
Anja Manuel, director of the Aspen Security Forum, said there had been a “huge turnaround” in India’s willingness to move away from its previous policy of non-alignment in an effort to push back China.
“Ten years ago you still had a lot of ideas for a non-alignment movement,” she said. “It’s gone, especially with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and with the forays into the High Himalayas two years ago and last summer.”
Highlighting the change, India in October invited Australia to join Malabar, a military exercise between the United States, India and Japan – the first time the four navies have held joint exercises since 2007. The exercises took place as Indian and Chinese troops were once again locked in a tense military confrontation in Ladakh.
“China’s aggression in Ladakh has been a major catalyst in India, not only by fully associating itself, but by agreeing to give the Quad a public military angle,” said Brahma Chellaney of the Center for Policy Research.
Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said this week that US-Indian military cooperation had “made significant progress” and that the potential for increased cooperation was “the strategic opportunity” of the 21st century.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, he said the military was sharing more intelligence, and praised India’s purchase of P-8 spy planes, which are being used by the United States and Australia, improving the interoperability.
In January, India also joined other Quad members and Canada in Sea Dragon, an anti-submarine warfare exercise. Last year, for the first time, it hired Sea Guardian reconnaissance drones from the United States.
Tanvi Madan, an Indian expert at the Brookings Institution, said New Delhi has also signed agreements with the United States and Australia to let them refuel at Indian bases. She said that while many actions may seem small in isolation, they were much more meaningful when combined.
“If you don’t look at all of these things, you’re missing the spider web that’s woven underneath,” Madan said.
Lisa Curtis, an Indian expert who was the top NSC official for South Asia under Trump during the India-China border crisis, said India pushed back China in economic and maritime matters .
“They have dramatically increased the pace of their naval activity to keep the Chinese on their toes,” said Curtis, head of the Indo-Pacific security program at the Center for New American Security.
“They were… Stating that their cooperation with the US and Japanese navies reminded China that if you put pressure on the land borders, you had better be prepared to meet us in the naval realm.
Rory Medcalfe, an Asian security expert at Australian National University and author of the Indo-Pacific Empire, said there were other areas where the Quad could cooperate, including on technological supply chains and cyberpolitics.
The Financial Times reported this week that the four countries are strategizing to engage in Indo-Pacific vaccine delivery diplomacy as a form of soft power to counter China’s vaccination efforts.
He said it was “unrealistic” to see the Quad as a formal military alliance, but stressed that Biden’s desire to do more, coupled with Indian change, underscored the growing importance of the four-nation partnership.
“We will go beyond the point where some observers say the Quad is an incredible fragile arrangement that will dissipate, and the weak link would be India.”
India publicly insists that the Quad is not targeting China. Some Indians fear the United States will lead them into an alliance that India does not want.
But C. Raja Mohan, of the National University of Singapore, said India can calibrate its cooperation since it is not an ally of the United States, like Australia and Japan. “India can set the pace. . . The more positive India becomes, the broader the agenda on the security side can become. “
Abhijit Singh, a former Indian naval officer at the Observer Research Foundation, said India is unlikely to pursue an immediate deepening of Quad military cooperation given the recent partial disengagement of Chinese and Indian troops. He said India was also “a little cautious of turning the quadrangle into some kind of anti-China coalition.”
“We want to do a lot more with our Quad partners, but I don’t think there will be too much movement on the military front as long as this disengagement lasts,” Singh said. “But if we see more problems coming from China, it is very likely that the administration’s posture on this matter will change.”